SONA garrisons, use of tinted water: ‘Worse than Arroyo, like Marcos’

July 29, 2014

Water used to disperse the protesting crowd had a noticeable red tint. Ilang-Ilang Quijano

Water used to disperse the protesting crowd had a noticeably red tint. Ilang-Ilang Quijano

Fearful of the people.

This is how Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) described President Aquino, who deployed more policemen and military personnel against protesters during a State of the Nation Address (SONA) than any of his predecessor. The group also scored how the authorities used tinted water to disperse a crowd, reminiscent of martial law years.

In a press conference, leaders of people’s organizations said that Aquino’s deployment of 10,000 policeman and 400 military personnel, as well as the use of container vans and razor-sharp concertina wires to block citizens’ protests, is more than what was seen even during the height of ex-president Gloria Arroyo’s political crisis.

“We were still very far (from their main barricades), and yet they already used water cannons against us,” said Ferdinand Gaite, chairperson of government employees’ group Courage.

Elmer Labog, chairperson of workers’ group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), meanwhile said that the water used to disperse them, noticeably tinted red, was irritable to the skin and eyes. “It was not only irritable. It also irritated us that it was the first time since martial law that government used tinted water to disperse the people,” he said.

Labog explained that during the Marcos dictatorship, tinted water was used during dispersals to mark those who led the protest actions so that they can be hunted down by authorities during the retreat. “But contrary to their expectations, no one from the crowd retreated,” the worker leader said.

Feny Cosico of the scientists’ group Agham said that they collected samples of the water and will analyze it for chemical agents.

“Whether the water was tinted or not, the use of water cannons still violates international human rights laws, and is against our constitutional right to free speech and peaceful assembly,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan.

She also said that it was also the first time since martial law that the president deployed such a large number of military personnel to augment the already huge police force around the vicinity of Batasan Pambansa and other places in Metro Manila.

Container vans and other barriers turned Commonwealth Ave. into a virtual garrison. Ilang-Ilang Quijano

Container vans and other barriers turned Commonwealth Ave. into a virtual garrison. Ilang-Ilang Quijano

Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes added, “The barricades were illegal…The protesters had no other choice but to show defiance.”

Meanwhile, contrary to police and media reports, Karapatan said that four people were arrested during yesterday’s protest actions. The group said that two of these—a driver and his daughter—were even tasered by the police.

Karapatan said that a group of urban poor residents were protesting near the Sandiganbayan in Commonwealth Avenue when the police electrocuted a driver and his daughter using a stun gun. The group identified the victims as Rodel Torotola, 38, and Rochel Torotola, 12, residents of Brgy. Holy Spirit in Quezon City.

According to a statement by the urban poor group Kadamay, the Torotolas were tasered at around 3:00 p.m. after Rodel refused to give the policemen the key to the jeepney that the protesting residents used. The Torotolas were brought to the Quezon City Police Department Station 6, but were released after negotiations.

The victims were members of the Controlled Economic Zone Federation (CEZFed), a group opposing the demolition of homes along Commonwealth Avenue.

The president and vice-president of CEZFed, Maria Luisa Garcia, 46, and Rosita Labarez, 57, respectively, were also arrested and brought to Camp Karingal. They were only released at around 10 p.m. yesterday.